The primate of the Anglican Church of Canada is hoping Anglicans across the country will give a “strong endorsement” to the initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC) aimed at promoting child protection.
In his New Year’s Day address at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa, Archbishop Fred Hiltz said the WCC asks that each member church adopt the “Churches’ Commitments to Children” and make them their own. The Anglican Church of Canada has been a member of the WCC since 1948.
Launched in Geneva in March 2017, “Churches’ Commitments to Children” has been developed “to stimulate and strengthen action with and for children by WCC member churches and partners,” according to the WCC. “It is also a living resource which will be further developed over time through the WCC on the basis of member churches’ responses and experiences.”
The WCC sees its initiative as “constant with the ministry of Jesus and his own embrace of children, how he loved, blessed and healed them,” said Hiltz. It is constant also “with our Lord’s stern warning against any who violate their innocence or harm them in any way.”
Hiltz said he intends to place the commitments before Council of General Synod for its consideration and will also “commend them to every diocese in the hope of a strong endorsement in every parish throughout our church.”
“These are times when it is impossible to escape seeing the images of children whose basic human rights are violated,” he said. It is also a time when it is “impossible to plead ignorance, a time when, from the perspective of the gospel in Christ, it would be irresponsible, indeed unforgivable, for us not to act in the interests of their dignity and safety and well-being.”
Only a few days earlier, the archbishop noted, UNICEF described 2017 as “a nightmare year” for children living in conflict zones around the world. The parties involved in conflicts were “blatantly disregarding international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable,” the UN agency reported.
The primate also lamented the suffering of children who have been separated from their families “in the masses of people fleeing oppression in their homelands,” and of children as young as 12 who are being trafficked for the global sex trade.
He decried situations in which children must “cling to their mothers and fathers in risky voyages across treacherous seas and desert treks, in the hope of finding refuge in another country,” or who work in unsafe factories “meeting the unfettered greed of consumerism in other parts of the world.”
In Canada, one in seven children lives in poverty, according to statistics released in September, said Hiltz. And descendants of those who were taken from their families and placed in residential schools are a part of “those dark chapters in our history,” he added.
Children who live with domestic violence and those who are innocent victims in bitter custody disputes also need protection, he said. “As I speak those words I am sure the faces of Aubrey and Chloe come to mind.” The bodies of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe Berry, 6, were discovered on Christmas Day in a home in Oak Bay, B.C. Their parents had been involved in a custody dispute trial in November 2016.
In his talk, Hiltz also turned the spotlight on national church programs and ministries in dioceses and parishes that show “imagination and dedication” and help “instill in our children the glorious truth that God loves them,” he said. Among them are church-sponsored breakfasts, afternoon snacks and homework clubs, Messy Church, children’s summer camps, help-lines, suicide intervention programs in Indigenous communities, and other programs supported by the Anglican Foundation of Canada.
“I name all these ministries, not to parade them, not to boast about them, but simply to say that I believe they fulfill the moral obligation that informs the WCC commitment to children.”
The annual address of the Canadian Anglican church’s primate in Christ Church Cathedral has become a tradition over the years, brought on in part with its proximity to Parliament Hill.